For the past two decades, a series of distant media corporations has owned Vermont’s Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal.
Next month, that’s set to change.
The papers announced Thursday that a group of Stockbridge, Mass., residents plans to buy New England Newspapers next month from New York-based Digital First Media. The sale includes the buyers’ local paper, the Pittsfield, Mass.-based Berkshire Eagle, along with the three Vermont properties.
“For local journalism, for local readers, for community newspapering, it’s like winning the lottery,” said Kevin Moran, vice president of news at New England Newspapers.
The new ownership group, called Birdland Acquisition, includes three Stockbridge residents: former VISA president John “Hans” Morris, former Pittsfield District Court judge Fredric Rutberg, and M&T Bank chair and CEO Robert Wilmers. Former Buffalo News publisher Stanford Lipsey is also part of the group.
Moran, who met his new bosses for the first time Wednesday evening, said they were “brimming with ideas and enthusiasm” and have “a strong and firm commitment to making newsrooms that do business in print and online work in the 21st century.”
In recent years, Digital First Media has slashed jobs at the Reformer, Banner,Journal and Eagle. But the new owners have pledged to make a “substantial number of new hires” in those newsrooms and throughout the business, according to a press release. They said Moran, publisher Ed Woods and the rest of the staff would keep their jobs.
Their first objective, Moran said, would be to “insource” jobs, such as design and production, that had been farmed out to other Digital First Media entities.
“It’s no secret that our newsrooms have been downsized — over the recent years, especially. So this is a breath of fresh air,” Moran said. “We spent 21 years or so under corporate ownership. To return to local ownership again is a dream come true, not only for us but I think for our communities.”
Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked for the Brattleboro Reformer from 2007 to 2008.
This post will be updated.